House lawmaker proposes legislation to denounce coronavirus-related racism

The legislation stipulates that the House would condemn all forms of racism and scapegoating and call on public officials to denounce any anti-Asian sentiment, as well.
U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) seen speaking during
Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, D.C, on March 25, 2019.Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images file

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By Kimmy Yam

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., introduced a House resolution Wednesday to denounce the racism toward Asian Americans related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation, co-sponsored by more than 120 fellow lawmakers, stipulates that the House would condemn all forms of racism and scapegoating and call on public officials to denounce any anti-Asian sentiment, as well.

Meng told NBC News that, since the early stages of the outbreak, she has called out any anti-Asian sentiment, but says that members of Congress have “a responsibility to speak out when we see or hear about injustices taking place.”

“We must take a strong stand against intolerance and violence so that the public hears us say loud and clear that this xenophobia and discrimination is absolutely unacceptable,” she said. “Americans are literally getting harassed and assaulted because of this rhetoric.”

The resolution also demands investigations into, and data collection around, coronavirus-related hate crimes. It cites the numerous incidents of violence and discrimination, and language associating the disease with Asians, such as “Wuhan virus” and “Chinese virus,” used by some GOP lawmakers and President Donald Trump.

While Trump has moved away from such language — telling Fox News on Tuesday that he doesn’t regret using the terminology but “decided we shouldn’t make any more of a big deal out of it” — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has continued to push the rhetoric. He reportedly urged G-7 leaders to adopt the term “Wuhan virus,” a move that caused division among foreign officials. The practice of identifying the disease by location or ethnicity runs counter to warnings from public health officials, including the World Health Organization, which said it could result in stigmatization of entire communities.

Asian Americans have experienced a surge in hate attacks since the beginning of the pandemic with some cases leading to hospitalization. One 23-year-old woman in New York City had to go to the hospital after she was allegedly punched in the face by attackers invoking anti-Asian slurs. An Asian teen in California was sent to the emergency room after he was bullied and assaulted. Online reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate received more than 650 direct reports of discrimination against primarily Asian Americans since the initiative’s launch March 18.

The resolution comes after more than 200 civil rights groups called on Congress to publicly reject the coronavirus racism earlier this month and suggested the passage of a joint resolution denouncing racism and xenophobia as one solution.

Meng said she commends “the many groups and organizations that have spoken out as well. Many groups and leaders have weighed in during this whole time. Their voices are critical, particularly at this time,” she said.

The legislation follows another House resolution introduced this week that demands the Chinese government "publicly state that there's no evidence that COVID–19 originated anywhere else but China." The controversial bill drew criticism from fellow lawmakers, including Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who argued it could potentially put Asian Americans in harm’s way.

"During a pandemic like this, people are afraid and angry, and directing that anger towards China puts AAPIs at risk, as we have already seen with the insults and assaults against them," she said.

One of the key legislators on the bill, Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., has since withdrawn his support of the resolution, saying it has caused “division, the substance overshadowed by President Trump’s divisive, xenophobic attempts to deflect from his administration’s abysmal response to this virus.”